Rules of the Game

Reb Nachum of Stefansti surprised his Hasidim in the beis midrash one night during Hanukkah. Instead of finding his students deep in the study of Torah, he found them equally engrossed in a game of Chinese checkers.

Embarrassed at their game, the Hasidim made to put the pieces away, when the rebbe smiled and had them set up for a new match.

“Do you know the rules of this game?” he asked them. No one said a word.

“Good,” the rebbe said. “Then I will share them with you. First, you sometimes have to sacrifice one piece in order to gain two. Second, you may never move two spaces at once. Third, you may only move forward and never backward. And fourth, when you’ve reached the top, you may move anywhere you like!”

Looking from one face to the other, he added: “And the rules of this game are the rules of our game as well.”


Sometimes you must sacrifice one piece to gain two. What is the one whose death brings you two? The inflated ego. If you desire the love of another, then sacrifice the love of self, put the other first, and you will discover that in feeding another you, too, are filled.

You may move only one space at a time. You cannot rush life. Long or short, troubled or joyous, life unfolds one moment at a time. Ecclesiastes teaches “there is a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Do not cry when it is time to laugh or gather stones at a time for scattering. Know what time it is, and allow it to run its course.

You may only move forward. The past is finished. You cannot undo what has been done. There are no rehearsals and no “do overs.” You can learn from the past, but you cannot remake it. You can replay it over and over, but it always turns out the same, and in the meantime you are missing out on the only time there is: now.

When you reach the top, you are free to move anywhere you wish. But there is nowhere to go! Birthing, dying, loving, hating, embracing, fleeing –— it is all here. Top and bottom, here and there, past and future –— all gone. You win! And then, realizing the fun is in playing the game, you, like Reb Nachum, set up the board for another round. Playing is its own reward.


Beis midrash (literally, “House of Study”): The school.

Published in: on May 21, 2011 at 1:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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